“None of this really matters,” one character says, and it’s hard not to feel as if she is referring to the novel itself.

READ REVIEW

THE MARTIN CHRONICLES

A coming-of-age novel, set in New York in the 1980s, that unfolds as a series of episodes.

Fried’s first book does not break new territory so much as it revisits familiar ground. The novel revolves around Martin Kelso, 11 as the story opens and 17 when it comes to a close. During those six years, he moves from sixth grade at a boys school that has gone coed to the threshold of college. The journey is insulated by Manhattan privilege, but there is, as there must be, unanticipated bumpiness. “For my friend Kevin Johnson’s thirteenth birthday,” Fried opens one chapter, “his father ordered pizzas and a case of Coke, and then handed out Playboy magazines.” Later, Martin experiences a first kiss with his cousin Evie, four years his senior, who is the novel’s agent of chaos, a character who trails disruption in her wake. “This was the Evie I remembered—an emotional spinning top,” Martin reflects. “I never knew quite where she would come to rest.” That question, and Evie’s continued machinations, ebb and flow throughout the book. It’s an interesting strategy, a way to inject more risk into the narrative, but in the end, it backfires a little bit. This is because Evie is a more compelling character than her cousin, who seems most alive when she is around. Without her, Martin learns to run the elevator in his apartment building during an operators’ strike and almost gets arrested after buying beer. He is used by a young woman looking to get back at her ex-boyfriend. He hangs out with his friends. None of it sticks, however, or more accurately, none of it comes fully to life. The scenes resound with a kind of nodding recognition, charged less from within than by the recollections of its readers, the memories of adolescence they provoke. Only when Fried returns to Evie and her troubles does the book re-engage again.

“None of this really matters,” one character says, and it’s hard not to feel as if she is referring to the novel itself.

Pub Date: Jan. 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5387-2983-0

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Review Posted Online: Oct. 2, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2018

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Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

THEN SHE WAS GONE

Ten years after her teenage daughter went missing, a mother begins a new relationship only to discover she can't truly move on until she answers lingering questions about the past.

Laurel Mack’s life stopped in many ways the day her 15-year-old daughter, Ellie, left the house to study at the library and never returned. She drifted away from her other two children, Hanna and Jake, and eventually she and her husband, Paul, divorced. Ten years later, Ellie’s remains and her backpack are found, though the police are unable to determine the reasons for her disappearance and death. After Ellie’s funeral, Laurel begins a relationship with Floyd, a man she meets in a cafe. She's disarmed by Floyd’s charm, but when she meets his young daughter, Poppy, Laurel is startled by her resemblance to Ellie. As the novel progresses, Laurel becomes increasingly determined to learn what happened to Ellie, especially after discovering an odd connection between Poppy’s mother and her daughter even as her relationship with Floyd is becoming more serious. Jewell’s (I Found You, 2017, etc.) latest thriller moves at a brisk pace even as she plays with narrative structure: The book is split into three sections, including a first one which alternates chapters between the time of Ellie’s disappearance and the present and a second section that begins as Laurel and Floyd meet. Both of these sections primarily focus on Laurel. In the third section, Jewell alternates narrators and moments in time: The narrator switches to alternating first-person points of view (told by Poppy’s mother and Floyd) interspersed with third-person narration of Ellie’s experiences and Laurel’s discoveries in the present. All of these devices serve to build palpable tension, but the structure also contributes to how deeply disturbing the story becomes. At times, the characters and the emotional core of the events are almost obscured by such quick maneuvering through the weighty plot.

Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

Pub Date: April 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-5464-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Feb. 6, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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With humor and insight, Straub creates a family worth rooting for.

ALL ADULTS HERE

When Astrid Strick witnesses a school bus run over a longtime acquaintance of hers—Barbara Baker, a woman she doesn't like very much—it's only the beginning of the shake-ups to come in her life and the lives of those she loves.

Astrid has been tootling along contentedly in the Hudson Valley town of Clapham, New York, a 68-year-old widow with three grown children. After many years of singlehood since her husband died, she's been quietly seeing Birdie Gonzalez, her hairdresser, for the past two years, and after Barbara's death she determines to tell her children about the relationship: "There was no time to waste, not in this life. There were always more school buses." Elliot, her oldest, who's in real estate, lives in Clapham with his wife, Wendy, who's Chinese American, and their twins toddlers, Aidan and Zachary, who are "such hellions that only a fool would willingly ask for more." Astrid's daughter, Porter, owns a nearby farm producing artisanal goat cheese and has just gotten pregnant through a sperm bank while having an affair with her married high school boyfriend. Nicky, the youngest Strick, is disconcertingly famous for having appeared in an era-defining movie when he was younger and now lives in Brooklyn with his French wife, Juliette, and their daughter, Cecelia, who's being shipped up to live with Astrid for a while after her friend got mixed up with a pedophile she met online. As always, Straub (Modern Lovers, 2016, etc.) draws her characters warmly, making them appealing in their self-centeredness and generosity, their insecurity and hope. The cast is realistically diverse, though in most ways it's fairly superficial; the fact that Birdie is Latina or Porter's obstetrician is African American doesn't have much impact on the story or their characters. Cecelia's new friend, August, wants to make the transition to Robin; that storyline gets more attention, with the two middle schoolers supporting each other through challenging times. The Stricks worry about work, money, sex, and gossip; Straub has a sharp eye for her characters' foibles and the details of their liberal, upper-middle-class milieu.

With humor and insight, Straub creates a family worth rooting for.

Pub Date: May 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-59463-469-7

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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